If you passed by the square Feb. 10 you may have noticed the Fox 5 van parked outside the courthouse and wondered what brought Atlanta news to Thomaston.
Fox 5’s Kaitlyn Pratt interviewed Malcolm Neal, owner of The Ritz Theatre, about his involvement with the national organization, “Save America’s Cinemas,” whose mission is to: “[provide] financial assistance required to acquire the necessary digital equipment needed for approximately 3,000 small town cinemas and theaters in America.”(saveamericascinemas.org/our-cause).
Save America’s Cinemas (SAC) is endorsed by celebrities such as Joe Pesci, Tony Danza, Tom Sizemore, and James Gandolfini (AKA “Tony Saprano”).
The Ritz was the first in need theatre to apply to the organization. It currently runs on a 35mm projector. Those projectors are being phased out in order to change over to the industry’s new digital projectors. The Ritz is the only theatre in Georgia to apply for financial assistance from SAC.
Neal took Pratt on a tour of The Ritz during which she asked about the history of the building and its architecture. She also asked Neal how it came to be a part of his life.
“[My wife and I] wanted to move to a Southern state. We had owned and renovated a movie theatre before in New Mexico,” said Neal. “This place was for sale. It was in bad shape, so anybody who bought it would have to do a lot of work on it. And we liked the charm. So we came here to fix up The Ritz and to enjoy life in a small town in Georgia.
Pratt and Neal then talked about the main projects he first undertook when he came to The Ritz.
“We did so many projects when we first came here. The projection system was all changed; the screen was all changed; the sound system was all changed. The ceiling was in real bad shape, so we spent quite a lot of time fixing up the ceiling. That was probably the biggest behind the scenes work that we did. We put bathrooms downstairs. The only bathrooms in this whole building were upstairs. We did quite a few major things when we came here.”
During their interview, Neal told Pratt about the financial troubles that The Ritz, and many other single screen theatres, are having.
“Most small-town theatres have been closed up and demolished. There’s not many old-time, single screen theatres still open,” said Neal.
“We try and keep going, but the reason why there are hardly any single screen theatres left is because it’s hard to make a single screen theater work, financially speaking. It has to be a labor of love because what comes in the door basically goes out in expenses. The studios charge so much for their movies that people don’t realize that most of what comes into the box office goes back to the studios; it doesn’t stay with the theatre.
“People say concession prices are high in any theatre, and again it’s because so much of the box office goes to the studio. We need the concession sales. We encourage people to always get their popcorn. It definitely helps keep the theatre going.”
In an interview with this reporter, Neal says SAC has plans with Ford and AutoNation to raffle off cars to support their cause. A new digital projector can range from $75,000-$100,000 to purchase.